Thursday, September 29, 2016

Stranger Things

It's not that I didn't want to watch Stranger Things. I had heard a lot of good things about the Netflix original series and I was intrigued by the some of the comparative descriptions of the show: Stand By Me mixed with X-Files crossed over with E.T. the Extra Terrestrial with a dash of Supernatural but creating something incredibly new and original. With such a pedigree, how could I refuse? 

But things had gotten to the point where I was going to HAVE to watch the show. Me, I love pop culture stuff. I love television and movies and books and music and comic books and blogs and You Tube videos and....well, I absorb it all like some kind of media sponge. And no matter where I turned, there was Stranger Things.

Oh look! The Stranger Things kids are handing out PB&J sandwiches at the 2016 Emmy Awards.

Hey, Stephen Colbert's doing a Late Show cold open with Eleven from Stranger Things. 

Wow! A Stranger Things/Buffy the Vampire Slayer mash up. 

How about Stranger Things but with the kids from Peanuts?




Stranger Things had infiltrated the DNA of the pop culture zeitgeist and there was no way of avoiding it. 

Thankfully, my daughter Randie who had already watched the episodes was keen to watch them again and she invited her mom and I to watch with her. Well, any chance at family bonding time, right? 

So last Friday we sat down to watch the first two episodes of Stranger Things. And what can I say but... it was as entertaining an experience as everything I had read said it would be.  

The show is set in the year 1983 and the show really captures that vibe right down to the Stranger Thing's title graphic, a retro red neon against a black background, like Tales From the Darkside. (There's even little spots and scratches in the black as if we're watching this on an old video tape.)  



The score is straight out of early 1980s synth music, a score perfectly at home in episodes of Doctor Who from that era or the soundtrack of John Carpenter horror films.  

There are two mysteries that drive the narrative: the disappearance of a boy named Will and the appearance of a girl known only as Eleven. And in the middle of these two mysteries are three young boys, Mike, Dustin and Lucas, who want to find their missing friend and get to the bottom of who this strange girl is with her buzz cut hair and paranormal mental powers.  

Another show to compare Stranger Things to is the British series Broadchurch which is centered around the murder of a young boy. But the mystery of the boy's death in Broadchurch is only part of the bigger picture of the series as we see the impact of that crime on the lives of different people in the town. Likewise in Stranger Things, the lives of others are a matter of important focus as the disappearance of Will reverberates through the community. Some feel that impact more directly as Will's mother descends deeper into madness. Others feel echoes to their own tragic pasts such as the police chief whose own loss of a daughter still haunts him. For people like Mike's sister, Nancy, the disappearance of Will is something that only flits around the edges of her awareness as she copes with dueling desires to focus on her education and to hook up with charming bad boy Steve.  

Character development during the course of this unfolding mystery holds my attention as much as the mystery itself and nowhere is that more profoundly expressed than in police chief Jim Hopper. When we first meet Hopper, he's forcing himself awake after what appears to be a night of heavy drinking. He shows up at the police station barely concerned with what's going on in his department and his town. He is, at first blush, an unsympathetic character. By the end of the 2nd episode, the depths of his knowledge, experience and pain make Hopper a most engaging character. 

But the core of Stranger Things are Mike, Dustin and Lucas who act like real kids, at turns afraid and adventurous, uncertain and determined. And then there's Eleven, the mysterious girl with the telekinetic powers who has entered their lives just as their friend Will has disappeared. Eleven is fearful, an escapee from a super secret quasi governmental project that's stopping at nothing, not even murder, to track her down. But beneath her fear is a determination to remain free and a growing trust and friendship with these boys who have taken her in. Eleven is a character of few words but she expresses so much through her eyes, there is little doubt as to her thoughts and feelings.  

Wow! That's a lot of words for just the first two episodes and I only touched only some of the many wonderful details that fill these two installments and make me anxious to see the rest of the series. I know the thing today is to binge watch stuff but I so much enjoyed those first two episodes, I want to relish that feeling of enjoyment and make this experience last as we progress through the next six episodes.  

Thanks to my daughter for giving my wife and I a chance to share this series with her. And thanks to the entire freaking internet that made it impossible for me to avoid it. 

Here's to looking forward to more Stranger Things.



Another post is coming up tomorrow. Until then, remember to be good to one another. And don't forget...


  

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